Hello again! Welcome back. Another Monday, another day to sit back as I wow you with a double whammy of science fiction gooeyness and hot lead on crime-ridden streets. As you may recall, I’m an anachropunk/retropunk/steampunk/dieselpunk (Whew! lotta names) and on and on who loves retro era fiction and how it can serve to enhance and teach us in the modern age. Manners, science, fears, prejudices, etc. Will today’s movie from the atomic era classify as an atompunk style flick? Will the filthy, seedy movie I scanned on Youtube actually be a real, tried and true film noir? Let’s find out.
ATOMS- THE STRANGE WORLD OF PLANET X
Not too snazzy a title sequence, but it’ll do. Dated to 1958, this again comes off Youtube’s redoubtable list of ‘B-movie scifi classics’. So far, this list hasn’t been so bad. Now, before we begin, let’s get into the details. I watch a B-movie to see if it would be cool for atompunk. But, what if it isn’t? Do I spin a wheel of misfortune, or get shipped off to the mutant wasteland? No (might be cool, though). But here’s the deal: for those not really into the punk genres or only know about steampunk, atompunk is NOT the sole game in town for dealing with the classic science fiction look. I wrote in Episode 1 about raypunk. Now, atompunk is mainly the Cold War era, our hopes/fears about atomic/nuclear power (note the power source is specifically mentioned), military buildup, jets over propellers, paranoia, mistrust of government/trust in corporations which build the future, counterculture, etc. Raypunk is more old school, rockets and rayguns, but the key difference is there is no real atomic power. It’s energy…of some kind. The space world is ubiquitous, aliens galore, star empires, imaginary science fantasy, dreamy imagery and so on. Got it? We also have raygun gothic, but that’s a tale for another time. They can be pretty clear cut, and other times seem alike. Why do I bring it up again? You’ll see.
This is directed by Gilbert Gunn, a guy who made two other films. Never seen either. But, if you have the time and want to do something lazy or doesn’t include gouging your eyes out, dig up 1959’s Operation Bullshine (?) and Elstree Story from 1952. Other than that, I guess there was naught else to say. Thanks Wiki and IMDb.
Well, here we have a secret science experiment taking place in the UK, which is a staple so common to the films I’ve watched in just five episodes of A&S I’m beginning to think these things happened and the Brits covered it up. Either that, or the mistrust of atomic research was WAY more severe in the UK than the trusting US. Gil Graham (played by Forrest Tucker) works for the uptight Dr. Laird in a research firm. Gil is the outcast American, laid back, opinionated. It was odd seeing him in this film, trying to be serious. I only know him as the goofy second-in-command Cavalry Sgt. Morgan O’Rourke from the old show F Troop. Weird. He performed…so-so. Anyway, they are experimenting with a magnetic field, one which can change the molecular state of metals. Pretty neat science making copper pliable. I wondered if it was really going on back when and to what extent. But an accident injures a co-worker, and he is replaced by a woman. A thinking woman. A French woman, Michelle DuPont (played by Gaby Andre). Well, she distracts the free-wheeling Gil, but Michelle is all about the math and computers. Soon enough, the magnetic field test is on again, set to show for the lab’s boss. Again, we get an accident, one that pulls objects across the room. Gil saves Michelle, but the machine proves to still be running even after the blowout and manual shutdown, creating a tremendous field with far reaching consequences.
The effects of the field, who knows about it and what can be done about it take up the remainder of the film. The conversation was great, so was the modicum of intrigue as the lab investigates how the field could grow far beyond their capacity to actually make it. Aside from atom smashers, I’m now curious about the effects of an altered magnetic state on solid objects. Meanwhile, things fall from the sky, the papers cry about an invasion from ‘Planet X’ to stoke the fires. Turns out (no spoilers) things are truer than they realize.
Women walking in the dark get jumped. Always the first to go. Why are women walking about in the dark in bad area all the time in these films? The woods crawl with bugs. A stranger wanders around, asking scientific questions, claiming he’s from a far off world. The landscape changes for the worse. Soon, we’re in a classic scifi B-movie battle of Army guys and bugs, normal Joes against a mad scientist. Clever a bit. Not too original. The special effects needed work and were clearly a lot of stock footage. But, the flick played well. Not great, but well.
Is it atompunk? I believe the casual atompunk like me would like it and say yes. However, it leans more into raypunk if you want to be specific. There is no atomic power. It is batted about, but not in use. The science is all very speculative, nothing real and founded. We also get aliens. No Cold War. No jets. Some paranoia. It fits the time alright, but not the bill. Good piece of film if you’re bored. However, as it is casual atompunk fluff, it will get rated.
POWER SOURCE- 1 (ZERO atomic or nuclear power. However, the experiments with the magnetic field are a specific energy source, which is counter to raypunk’s vague energy power characteristic. Also, the many conversations about the field, the ionosphere and if it was exposed are very good talk)
SCIENCE- 3 not bad, good bits, but not atomic (see above). The flick is rotten with scientists doing experiments, so that part is on point. Fair.
ELEMENTS- 3. Fair. We are lacking in the main points of atompunk, but this film was done deep in the atomic era. No denying it there. It looks the part. But, it can’t follow through. At the end, the military and bugs coming in helps it out.
DEPTH- 3. Okay, so the acting is hit and miss. I liked Michelle a lot. Smart, friendly, deep, well acted, but still treated like any female is in any old film, which was poorly. Dr. Laird was sufficiently strict. Everyone did okay. But Forrest Tucker. Wow. I could not get into this guy as the main hero. He rubbed me the wrong way, and seemed like a comedian trying to play it straight instead of a reliable hero. Now, he was fair in parts, but not the majority. A fair run.
I recommend it for the flaws and all. A good bug invasion flick should never be ignored.
SHADOWS- PAROLE, INC.
Welcome to 1948 America, land of crappy people behaving in crappy ways. This was the Greatest Generation, right? Boy, do we see this time through rose-colored glasses! In this crime drama, directed by Alfred Zeisler (of whom I found nothing. Nothing!), we enter the shady world of corrupt parole boards. Matter of fact, the flick begins with a scrolling account of how we must be vigilant against this pernicious crime. So, stay alert! The Fed said so! Also, that pretty much summed this up as a police drama from the start, but I digress.
Right off the bat, our hero, Agent Richard Hendricks (Michael O’Shea) is beat up and in the hospital, so you know straight up things went south. He’s got out the bulky recorder, so he can wax poetic about his latest case for the FBI, and how he got literally busted.
Turns out Rich got approached by his bosses to play the role of a fink out of jail in order to break into a crime syndicate. See, the parole board nearby is letting key guys off the hook, guys who join a certain gang of thieves. Somebody is influencing someone on the board. Rich agrees, even after being told the last guy the FBI sent in came out in a black sack. But, life ain’t fun unless you risk it, so he agrees. He sets up shop after spying on the most recent scum to get out via the board, and hangs out at the cafe the guy frequents. Rich, with an alias as a lowlife (a very two-dimensional acting job, by the way), sticks around daily, finding out the crew is run by a woman, Jojo Dumont (played by Evelyn Ankers). It was nice to see a woman playing the boss, well, sort of, through this picture.
Anyway, Rich knows he has to commit a crime to look legit, so he robs a bank for cash, with Fed approval first. He tries to get Jojo to parole a ‘friend’ of his, because he needs to a) catch them in the act of having a criminal pay for the deal and b) lure out which member of the board is dirty and record them if possible. Well, his method is weak. One guy Rich tries to get out of the gang is caught and pays for it in lead. His girl is threatened. Rich goes on with the plan (mighty nice of the Fed to be so callous, but these guys are crooks, so even their unsuspecting gals get shafted). Rich’s plot involves timing and sneaking in a recorder and playing dumb. It’s a not too bright plan, and since we know how the film begins, Rich in bandages, you can guess how this plays out.
Not bad. Critics hacked it up. Wiki calls it film noir (surprise!). IMDb didn’t care enough to even bring it up. IMDb, I don’t blame you.
PERSONA- 4. Okay. The crooks are very stereotypical, but isn’t that what you want in a low end gangster flick? Rich is terrible as a con. Very bad accent. Kooky. The ringleaders do okay, I guess. I mean, they’re all shady, and that’s noir. It ends there, almost.
GRIT- 5 When you look for a film of bad people, the noir attitude, and 90% of the cast is made up of heartless cats, you get a 5. Not well acted, but they all fit the description.
DANGER- 4 There’s always the danger of Rich getting exposed for being a Fed. There’s danger of loved ones caught up for what their stupid boyfriends get into. So, yeah. Not tense, stirring thrills but you wait to see what will happen. Things set off. Not eye popping, but the pot boils in a predictable fashion.
NOIR- 1. This is a police drama, or a low end crime drama. Oh, Youtube! Why, oh why! Film noir that isn’t already reviewed to death, you elude me. You taunt me from afar! Parole, Inc…..NOT film noir. Cheap. Gangster. Fluff. Piece. Mostly. Dull.
Watch it or avoid it. It fell so much in the middle (muddle) for me I had trouble keeping my peepers on it.
The level of desperation is deep, y’all. Film noir, I need you! Stop playing games. Youtube, I’m bringing the sap with me next time around. This town makes finding a decent flick a hard find. Let me know if you’ve seen these two, what you think, and maybe even recommend an obscure one you feel I’d like.
Come back next time, folks, for more (hoped for) grime and (actual) atomic power!